An international exhibition of artwork from the country, the region, and the world, held every October in Belgrade, this year's Oktobarski Salon (October Salon) took place from Oct. 2 to 15 and marked 50 years of existence. Despite the golden anniversary, however, the global financial crisis took its toll on the event. With a budget cut in half, the 2009 October Salon was at notably more modest than in the past years.
In search of a conceptual framework for the show - which ended up bearing the symbolic title "Circumstances" - exhibition art director Branislava Ančelković-Dimitrijević decided to focus on domestic art, with just a few visiting works from the region and the rest of Europe. Ančelković-Dimitrijević explained to Southeast Europe: People and Culture that the October Salon's central exhibition exhibited works "that depict and raise issues of systemic importance to society and art."
According to her, the event endeavoured to present works that not only express artists' engagement with such topics, but also display their direct influence on how the public views and approaches these issues. Ančelković-Dimitrijević said that her goal was to label "domestic artists" as "international," while at the same time show that their art is indeed tied to local experiences which form the basis of their initiatives and inspire them to act.
The central exhibition at the 25th Maj Museum in Belgrade contained works by both Serbian and foreign artists, including Biljana Đurđević, Uroš Đurić, Bojan Fajfrić, Živko Grozdanić, Ivan Grubanov, Igor Grubić, Jamesdin, Žolt Kovač, Zoran Naskovski, Oleg Novković and Rasa Todosijević, among others. Visitors also had a chance to see art by Katarina Zdjelar and Zoran Todorović, who represented Serbia at this year's Venice Visual Arts Biennale. The laureates of this year's October Salon show are Katarina Zdjelar, Darinka Pop Mitić, and Raša Todosijević, while the Belgrade Cultural Centre gave its award to Aleksandar Jestrović, also known as Jamesdin.
In their statement, the jury explained that Katarina Zdjelar and Darinka Pop Mitić were awarded because their works represent an exceptional engagement with the cultural context in which they live and work, with a strong focus on the present moment. "In the case of Katarina Zdjelar, her works recognise the importance of a space where different cultures can negotiate through the use and constant questioning of language. Her work reminds us of how important it is to master language in order to communicate and live together, yet leaves enough space for productive failures and playful ambiguity, from which other possibilities may emerge," the jury said.
Further elaborating their decision, the jury stated that the work of Darinka Pop Mitić engages history's cultural and artistic legacy, modifying it from the viewpoint of the present moment, while Raša Todosijević was awarded for "decades of contribution to the art of Belgrade, the region, and international artistic trends." The 2009 October Salon exhibited artwork from beyond Serbian borders by authors who play an active role in the country's contemporary art scene. Among these is U.K. artist Phil Collins, whose work "Why I Don't Speak Serbian" - based on actual conversations on the title topic with Kosovo Albanians, led in Serbian - was presented at the Belgrade Cultural Centre's Artget Gallery.
The public also had a chance to see part of the Kunsthistorisches Mausoleum Fund from Belgrade, an art history memorial institution. On display was a series of drawings and self-portraits entitled "Observe the Observer" by an anonymous author. Audiences were also interested in the project The Artist as a Prophet by one of the exhibit's laureates, Dragoljub Raša Todosijević. The project could be seen throughout the capital, from billboards to busses. One novelty of this year's event was a video project by Croatian visual artist Igor Grubić, composed of 24 short interviews with the October Salon's exhibiting artists. The film was screened by several Belgrade television stations during the two weeks the show was open.